January 4, 2023

Currently Thinking: Gender & Society

How did Matt Haig become the writer for depressed people?  I guess Virginia Woolf couldn't always hold the throne there.  I liked The Midnight Library, and perhaps its the audio book version of Notes on a Nervous Planet that's getting to me, but when depression is a disease more likely to affect Women than men it's interesting to me that the more mainstream writer on the topic happens to be a man.

Why was Oliver Burkeman's book 4,000 Weeks so successful... and yet Laura Vanderkam's work is less so?  Is it because Men don't read books by women?  How come English - a degree which is dominated by women (2/3 of English BAs are awarded to women) becomes a professional field dominated by men?  Women don't get published as much as men in literary magazines.  Research by female authors is far less likely to be cited than that of male authors.  Why are we losing out on one of the few skills so dominantly female?

Today at work a young female engineer asked me on teams if she could leave a meeting early because she wanted to finish work at 4:30.  I said she should ask the group - but instead of asking to leave early she should tell them she needs to leave early because she has another meeting.  Women so often feel the need to give reasons for the things we do, professionally or personally.   We ask rather than tell.  Male engineers don't ask me for permission nearly as often as female ones do.

Many workplaces have started offering early finish on Friday afternoons, or on the last Friday of the month.  Considering that mothers are more likely to work a 4 day week than men, and more likely to have Fridays off, does an early finish Friday become a gender advantage employment benefit?  If mothers are losing out while men/fathers/women without children are reaping a benefit "for all" then is it really a benefit for all?

The Authority Gap by Mary Ann Sieghart gets an honorary mention as a 2022 non fiction best.  It had a slightly more optimistic end than Invisible Women.  


  1. I did love Notes on A Nervous Planet (though very much disliked Reasons to Stay Alive), but you raise an excellent point.
    I preferred Tranquility by Tuesday to 4,000 Weeks (which I also read and enjoyed), but Oliver Burkeman gets WAY more air time than Laura Vanderkam. I very much wonder how much of a role gender plays in this discrepancy! Food for thought, indeed.

    1. I am enjoying Notes on A Nervous Planet, but it made me remember Midnight Library and then realize that Matt Haig seems to have this niche. I noticed it a lot with 4,000 weeks - while I enjoyed the book a lot I felt like it got way more air time, podcast time and writeups than Laura's books do and I always question whether gender is at play when I see things like that (I blame Invisible Women for making me more aware/annoyed)

  2. I mean, the answer is that confident women come across as less attractive than confident men, right? I can see why your colleague would be nervous to say "I have to leave at 4:30 for another appointment" because it could come off as strong and you know the word I'm thinking of. It's all socially constructed expectations for what are "good" traits for different people of different sexes. (I also think about Invisible Women nearly every day. That book was so brilliant and putting all those examples of how women are at a disadvantage in one place!)

  3. This is all fascinating and thought-provoking and maddening and depressing.

  4. Another astute observation: men don't ask for permission, they inform. So true. I am trying to be better about that, but I still slip into the "asking" vs. "telling" mindset often. Sigh.